Rock 'n' roll
After nearly 40 years later, a legendary N.J. garage band stages an
Sunday, August 08, 2004
BY JAY LUSTIG
In 1966, a songwriter and producer named Larry Brown walked into the
Indian Pizzeria on Lyons Avenue in Newark. Some teenagers were
leaning against the jukebox, singing along, and Brown spotted
a potential star.
don't know what song -- it might have been a Rolling Stones
song," says Brown, a Newark native who now lives in
Nashville, and is known as L. Russell Brown. "But
I went, 'Wow, what an interesting voice this kid had.'
There was a rasp to it, and a power, and a fury."
singer's name was Howard Tepp, but he would soon change
it to Richard Tepp and front the band, Richard & the
Young Lions. The band released a howling debut single, "Open
Up Your Door," that was a regional smash in markets
across the country, including Detroit, Cleveland and Seattle.
further success was elusive, and by the end of 1967, the
band had broken up. Garage-rock aficionados never forgot
about them, though.
defined garage-rock," says Steven Van Zandt, the Bruce
Springsteen collaborator and "Sopranos" actor
who hosts the nationally syndicated "Underground Garage" radio
show and is presenting a garage-rock festival at Randall's
Island in New York on Saturday (see accompanying story).
had a great attitude in his voice, and they had a fuzztone
bass, which is a garage-rock move. It was just sort of
that basic, simple music that we used to call rock 'n'
roll dance music. It was the kind of music that made people
get on the dance floor and go berserk."
1998, "Open Up Your Door" achieved the ultimate
garage-rock honor, being selected for an expanded CD reissue
of the seminal 1972 garage-rock compilation, "Nuggets."
song "was everything I liked about that particular
era of music," says "Nuggets" producer Lenny
Kaye, who is best known as a member of Patti Smith's backing
band. "It was driving, rocking, elemental, and full
of the things that all the 'Nuggets' bands have, which
is desire. You can feel these people seeing the gold ring,
and grasping for it, and actually snagging it."
who died on June 17 of leukemia, at the age of 57, had
other bands after the Young Lions broke up. But he never
made as big a splash as he did the first time around.
he wanted out of life was to play again," says Lynne
Taylor, who lived with Tepp in the upstate New York town
of Tannersville for the last 24 years of his life. "He
always felt like he came so close."
supported himself primarily with bartending and, later
in his life, disability checks. He suffered from a number
of ailments, including psoriatic arthritis, Parkinson's
Disease, and the blood disorder, polycythemia.
never quit, no matter how many things they socked him with," says
Taylor. "That's why it was so hard to see that he
wish to reunite with the Young Lions was granted, improbably,
in 2000. Band members got back in touch with each other,
and decided to come out of musical retirement.
reunited band performed at clubs like Maxwell's in Hoboken
and the Village Underground in New York. Shortly before
Tepp died, the group, which released three singles but
no album in the '60s, finished its first full-length album,
with Van Zandt handling much of the production work.
album is dominated by new originals, but also includes
remakes of "Open Up Your Door" and "You
Can Make It" (the third of the band's '60s singles),
and covers of some obscure garage-rock songs. It is not
yet released and has no title, but Van Zandt plans to put
it out on his own Renegade Nation label, with distribution
by a larger record company.
took the attitude that we had unfinished business: the
unfinished business was to do this album," says guitarist
Lou Vhalakes of North Plainfield, one of the three musicians
who backed Tepp in the '60s and are keeping the band going
after his death. The others are bassist Fred Randall of
Montclair and drummer Mark "Twig" Greenberg of
New York; all are in their mid-50s.
album will follow the recent release of a DVD documentary, "Out
of Our Dens: The Richard and the Young Lions Story." James
Hannon of Scotch Plains, who designed the band's Web site
(www.richardandtheyounglions.com), co-directed the low-budget
film. Disk jockey Pat St. John (Q104.3 FM, Sirius Satellite
Radio), a Richard & the Young Lions enthusiast, narrated.
and the Young Lions were absolutely essential to my youth," says
St. John, who lives in Montclair, but heard "Open
Up Your Door" as a teenager in Detroit. "It was
one of my favorite records of all time.
was a happy record, and it was a record that was relatable.
Everybody has that feeling when you're knocked out by somebody.
'Open up your door!' -- you want to get to her."
band will perform at Saturday's festival, after a short
video tribute to Tepp. Mike Fornatale, who has previously
played with Moby Grape and the Monks, has been recruited
to handle most of the vocals.
can replace Richard," says keyboardist Rick Robinson,
who has been in the band since it reformed in 2000. "We're
going to try to do something that sounds like the band,
but not in any way try to pretend he's been replaced."
Richard & the Young Lions story began almost 40 years
ago, when Tepp was a student at Newark's Weequahic High
School. He joined a band called the Emeralds, which soon
changed its name to the Original Kounts.
was still in this band -- also featuring guitarists Bob
Freedman and Marc Lees, drummer Norm Cohen, bassist Ricky
Rackin and keyboardist Jerry Raff -- when Brown discovered
him. Brown worked for Bob Crewe's SCC Productions; Crewe
was an music-industry powerhouse who managed Frankie Valli & the
Four Season and Mitch Ryder & the Detroit Wheels, among
whose future successes would include co-writing "Tie
a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree," thought "Richard" was
more rocking than "Howard," and asked him to
change his name. Remembering that he had met Tepp on Lyons
Avenue, he came up with the idea of renaming the band the
also insisted on using his own studio musicians to back
Tepp on the band's recordings.
Up Your Door," the band's debut single, came out in
July of 1966. "It was inspired by another song, (the
Rolling Stones') 'Satisfaction,' just the spirit of that
piece," says Brown, who cowrote it with then-partner
Ray Bloodworth and another songwriter, Neville Nader.
also liked the Spencer Davis Group," says Brown, referring
to the band that launched Steve Winwood's career. "I
was looking for a voice that had the power of a (Mick)
Jagger or a Winwood, and I had it with Richard."
after the single came out, the band was in chaos. Rackin
and Raff had gone back to high school. Lees had mononucleosis,
and he and Cohen -- who were both unhappy with Brown's
decision to use studio musicians -- quit.
band had been booked to lip-sync "Open Up Your Door" on
television's "Clay Cole Show," and Tepp found
himself without a backing cast. He met Vlahakes and Greenberg
-- teens from Livingston who had played together in local
bands the Mark IV and the Orphans -- at the South Orange
ice cream parlor Gruning's, and enlisted them. They made
the appearance as a trio, with Greenberg pretending to
soon switched back to drums, and Randall, of South Orange,
took over on bass. Freedman, who had never quit the band,
and never even knew about the "Clay Cole" gig,
was ready to go, too. The band was stable once again, and
its glory days were just beginning: "Open Up Your
Door" was taking off in the markets where it had been
gigs became more frequent. Up to Maine. Down to Virginia
and Florida. Out to Cleveland and Detroit.
peak came in October 1966, when the band played for thousands
of screaming fans at Detroit's Cobo Hall arena. There were
19 other acts on the bill, including Mitch Ryder & the
Detroit Wheels, Question Mark & the Mysterians and
future Rock and Roll Hall of Famers the Temptations, Bob
Seger and Del Shannon.
Richard & the
Young Lions were billed second, after the Temptations.
recall going out on-stage, and just the roar," says
Randall. "For that moment in time we got to feel what
a big rock star gets to feel when he goes out on-stage.
It was overwhelming, the amount of raw energy that was
coming at you."
another trip to Detroit, the band heard that the Yardbirds
were playing in nearby Ann Arbor, and didn't have an opening
act. They called the promoter, and were booked.
went down there, and there was Jimmy Page on-stage," says
Vlahakes. "Jeff Beck had just left (the band), and
Jimmy Page had come in. It was an incredible night -- the
Yardbirds were our heroes."
a 17-year-old kid, and obviously, I loved the Yardbirds," says
Greenberg. "And there's Jimmy Page. So I go over and
introduce myself: 'Hey, Jimmy, how ya doin'? I think you
guys are really great.' I'll never forget his immortal
words to me. 'Do me a favor, get me a coke.'"
Young Lions didn't stick around for long. The band could
never get "Open Up Your Door" released outside
of isolated markets -- it peaked at No. 99 on Billboard
magazine's national chart -- and the two subsequent singles
did not fare well.
who had just entered Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in
Troy, N.Y., was finding it hard to be both a college student
and an aspiring rock star, and stopped making road trips.
Larry Smith, a friend of Greenberg and Vlahakes, replaced
him. Greenberg quit later, and original drummer Cohen rejoined.
band had no definitive final moment. "We kept practicing
for a while, and then practices became less often and less
often, and then we just dispersed," said Tepp in "Out
Of Our Dens."
later groups included a California progressive-rock band
called TIME (Trust in Men Everywhere). One night, arriving
at a TIME gig, he was mugged, shot, and left for dead.
He survived, and eventually ended up in Tannersville, where
he bartended and played low-profile gigs.
band members kept playing music with local bands. Others
didn't. And they all eventually adjusted to their new lives
as non-stars. Greenberg, for instance, has worked on Wall
Street, and sold Jaguars. Vlahakes has sold sporting goods
and life insurance, and is now in the wholesale seafood
Greenberg and Smith stayed in touch, but most of the band
members had no contact with their old friends. They heard
about the inclusion of "Open Up Your Door" on "Nuggets," though,
and some tried to track each other down. The Internet was
invaluable, but fate played a part, too. Smith, for instance,
spotted Randall at a softball game at Livingston High School.
members began getting together socially, then decided to
try playing. One day in 2000, they all brought their instruments
to Randall's basement. Greenberg, who hadn't played drums
since 1968, used Randall's daughter's kit.
band sounded "terrible," Greenberg says. But
concert promoter Jon Weiss, who was presenting a series
of New York garage-rock festivals called Cavestomp, heard
the Young Lions were active again, and offered them a gig
at the next one. It was four weeks away.
was no way we could do it," says Greenberg. "But
we decided to say, 'Give us till next year, and we'd be
happy to.' And we came (to Randall's basement) just about
the band finally played Cavestomp, Van Zandt saw them in
action, and pledged his support. He had been Greenberg's
friend since the early '70s and knew he had once been in
a band, but wasn't aware it was Richard & the Young
day," says Van Zandt, "he came to me and says,
'That band I used to play in, in the '60s, one of our records
turned up on the 'Nuggets' collection.' I was like, 'What?
Excuse me?' So I went down to see them, and they were fantastic."
always, there were lineup convulsions, and some new faces,
including guitarist Eric Rackin (Ricky Rackin's cousin)
and keyboardists Robinson and Shelly Riff, were brought
such a cool guy," says Riff. "I did a gig with
them at the Village Underground and ended up heading into
the hospital, the Tuesday after, to have my appendix removed.
He calls me up in hospital and says, 'Hey, one weekend
with us, and there goes your appendix'."
band is now a six-piece, featuring Vlahakes, Greenberg,
Randall, Robinson, Riff and Fornatale.
they were making the album, Brown flew in from Nashville
for one of the band's rehearsals. "It was one of the
most amazing moments of my life, to be with all the guys
again," he says.
admits that back in the '60s, the band never got the support
it deserved from SCC Productions, which was preoccupied
by Valli and Ryder, and didn't consider Richard & the
Young Lions -- whose raw sound was unlikely to generate
huge sales -- a priority. Brown was also distracted by
his work as half of the duo the Distant Cousins, and his
songwriting for other groups, including the Four Seasons.
Tepp got lost in the shuffle of other people's careers," Brown
were the black sheep of the family, times a hundred," says
Greenberg. "The fact that 'Open Up Your Door' was
a regional hit ... that was great, but they didn't want
to put money into that. The last thing they or we ever
expected was that in the year 2004, Richard and the Young
Lions, the original band, would be putting out this album.
It's like impossible."
information on the band or the "Out of Our Dens" DVD,
Star Ledger, Aug 8th 2004